Chapter Sixteen

The month of September was a mixed bag for Severus. He continued to spend a lot of time with Lily and found that he was growing closer to her, despite their occasional arguments and his feeling of being so much older. His mother was being taken care of well as far as he knew from correspondence with her. The wizarding world really was ingenious when it came to having to breach the gap in using owls versus sending things the Muggle way.

Regrettably, the Marauders were just as relentless as ever. James Potter in particular had made it his life's ambition, apparently, to torment Severus whenever the opportunity presented itself. Avery and Mulciber had started off strong with their threats and jeers toward Severus, but his tactic of ignoring them seemed to be working. They seemed to have grown bored after a couple of weeks without eliciting a reaction from their victim. Severus still kept the area around his bed warded when he was asleep. He wasn't foolish enough to trust them not to act when his back was turned.

Potions was practically a joyride for Severus. After his first class of the term where he demonstrated his brilliance in the subject, Slughorn had taken a special interest in him. After class one day in late September, Slughorn approached him, enthusiastically inviting him and Lily to his next Slug Club get together. Severus made to decline, but Lily, thinking it would be a good idea, insisted he join, so Severus gave in... only for Lily.

And so, Severus and Lily now found themselves in Slughorn's office on the last day of the month. The large man was doting on his pet students, asking them if they would like anything to eat or drink. He then sat down with a big thump into his padded, oversized chair, gazing upon his pupils like prizes.

"So, tell me, Severus," Slughorn said, beaming, "where did you inherit your Potions skills from? I remember your mother, although not well, and she didn't seem particularly interested in the subject."

Scowling, Severus muttered, "No inheritance, sir. Just hard work and dedication."

How typical that Slughorn would barely know of Eileen Prince. Severus knew his mother hadn't been anyone extraordinary when she had attended Hogwarts. She had been a quiet, surly Slytherin who had kept to herself and had been captain of the Gobstones Club. She had been plain, too, so she hadn't been attracting the attention of the opposite sex.

"Ah," Slughorn said dumbly, obviously unsure of what else to say. He turned his attention to someone else, leaving Severus feeling annoyed.

Severus glanced at Lily and whispered, "See why I didn't want to come here?"

"I'm sorry, Sev," she said apologetically, squeezing his hand for good measure. "I thought maybe a little social interaction would do you some good."

A little offended, Severus queried softly, "And why is that, Lily? You think I need it, as if I'm somehow incomplete otherwise?"

"No," Lily said in a hushed voice, trying not to draw the attention of the others around them. She looked at Slughorn and excused herself and Severus from the room, for which Severus was eternally grateful. He left with Lily, and they found an empty classroom, where they continued their conversation.

"Look, Lily," Severus said placatingly before he put his foot in his mouth again, "I don't want to start fighting."

"Neither do I," said Lily gently, coming closer to him. "I just meant... you deserve to have other friends besides me, Sev. I want others to see what I see in you."

While he was touched by her words and sentiment, Severus still sighed. "I appreciate your thoughtfulness, Lily, but maybe I don't want anyone else to be close to me."

"I don't think that's true," Lily countered gingerly.

Raising an eyebrow, he asked, "Why?"

"Because... because everyone needs friends, people who care about them, look out for them."

"I have you for that," Severus insisted. "I had people I used to call friends in my house, but they were only hanging around because of what I could give them, and that was knowledge about, er... Dark Magic."

"Yes, I've noticed you haven't been hanging around with them anymore, Sev. Ever since the end of last year, you've been different. You seem more mature in some ways. It sounds crazy, I'm sure, but when I look into your eyes now, I feel like someone much older is staring back at me."

Severus's heart was thudding quickly and heavily in his chest. How could she read him so well? Lily didn't need to use Legilimency to know what was on Severus's mind. He had always prided himself on being a closed book to the rest of the world, but Lily completely undid him at the seams, spilling open all the pages to be read in between the lines.

"R-really?" Severus stuttered, gulping.

"Are you nervous, Sev?" Lily asked innocently, confused by his reaction.

"No, sorry," he quickly recovered. "Just caught off guard. You do crazy things to me, Lily." He smirked wryly, trying to change the mood.

Lily just smiled at him. "Well, I still love you."

Severus was gazing at her pretty face, completely transfixed. Lily had amazed him yet again. While she was usually a sixteen-year-old girl in the way she acted, there were times when she utterly awed him, bringing him to a standstill. Severus was reminded all over again why he had come back in the first place.

This was his Lily. This was real.

As was the kiss they shared.

Author's Note: Yes, I know! It's horribly short, and I'm sorry:( I've had a really long and tiring day, but I really wanted to get something out to you all. I know it's rather fluffy, but I figured a little bit of fluff after so many chapters of angst, drama, and sadness would be okay. I'm not about to go making this story all fluffy... no way! That's nauseating just thinking about it! Okay, sorry that I'm babbling, but like I said, I'm tired, so I'm a bit loopy. Bear with me just a little longer.

I wanted to thank all my dear readers and reviewers again. I haven't been able to keep up with replying to all the reviews I receive, as I'm being inundated with too many, but I'm touched, truly. Your reviews mean so much to me. If you ask me a specific question, I will reply, but otherwise, I probably won't. And FYI - it's unnecessary to say, "Please update soon!" I know you're excited, but I do update very frequently, so don't worry about me not updating soon. It goes without saying.

Just curious - Does anyone want to take a stab at guessing what will happen in this story? That applies to subplots involving Severus's relationship with his mother, what happens to Eileen and Tobias, his days at Hogwarts, Lily, the Marauders, the fellow Slytherin "friends," the whole war and Voldemort, the Prophecy, Harry Potter (???), etc., etc., etc. Go wild and let me know what you think will happen!!

And finally, do any of you draw fanart? I'm looking for an accomplished artist who has their work online. If so, would you like to take a commission from me for this fic?